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Members of Jackson’s family and other prominent guests attended the small ceremony, including NASA Langley Center Director Clayton Turner, retired NASA engineer and “Hidden Figure” Christine Darden, artist Tenbeete Solomon, and Jackson’s grandchildren Wanda and Bryan Jackson.
In addition to unveiling a building sign with Jackson’s name, the agency screened video tributes with reflections on her career at NASA, featuring family, friends, colleagues, astronauts, celebrities, elected officials and Hampton University President William R. Harvey.
In opening statements, Jurczyk commended Jackson’s work and discussed the significance of her role at the agency.
“Jackson’s story is one of incredible determination,” he said. “She personified NASA’s spirit of persevering against all odds, providing inspiration, and advancing science and exploration.”
“My hope is that when we are safely able to return to work in person, walking through the doors of the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters each morning will inspire us all to push forward and continue to break barriers,” added Jurczyk.
Wanda Jackson said her grandmother never gloated or bragged about her accomplishments.
“She was special to us. She was always our hero. She was always our star. So, I would like to thank NASA … again for showing the world what the Winston and Jackson family always knew about her,” she said.
“There’s no words that can explain how I’m feeling right now,” Bryan said. “I’m overwhelmed with joy and honor.”
Jackson was the first Black female engineer at NASA and her story was popularized with the release of both Margot Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures” book and the movie based on the lives of her and colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Darden.
After attending college, she worked as a teacher, receptionist and bookkeeper arriving at NASA’s precursor organization, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA). Jackson was a teacher, receptionist and bookkeeper before joining the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing unit in 1951.
NASA to Honor ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary W. Jackson During Headquarters Naming Ceremony
Two years later, she was offered a job working with engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the 4-foot by 4-foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel and was encouraged to train to become an aerospace engineer.
In order to do so, however, Jackson needed to complete graduate-level classes in math and physics which were held at the still-segregated Hampton High School. After obtaining permission from the city to do so, she earned the promotion and in 1958 became an engineer.
Her specialty was the field of boundary layer effects on aerospace vehicle configurations at supersonic speeds.
Also in 1958, Johnson co-authored the report: “Effects of Nose Angle and Mach Number on Transition on Cones at Supersonic Speeds.”
Seventeen years later, Johnson had authored or co-authored 12 NACA and NASA technical publications.
In 1979, Jackson — frustrated by the lack of management opportunities for women in her field — left engineering to become NASA Langley’s Federal Women’s Program manager, where she committed to promoting equal opportunities in the workplace for NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists.
In 1985, Jackson retired from Langley, but her legacy continued long past her career at NASA.
She helped out at the Hampton King Street Community Center, was a Girl Scout troop leader for more than 30 years, served as the chairperson for one of the center’s annual United Way campaigns and was a member of the National Technical Association.
Jackson received an Apollo Group Achievement Award and was named Langley’s Volunteer of the Year in 1976.
The NASA icon died in Hampton on Feb. 11, 2005, at the age of 83.
In 2019, Jackson posthumously received the Congressional Gold Medal.